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Why advocacy marketing must be in your marketing strategy

Why advocacy marketing must be in your marketing strategy

Who would you trust more – a friend, or a marketer? Someone with genuine experience of a product, or a company representative who’s paid to make you invest?

If you chose the second option for either of those questions, either:

  • You’ve worked in marketing so long you’ve started to believe your own myth.
  • You’ve worked in marketing so long that all your friends are also marketers.

If, however, you chose the first option, well done – you’ve grasped the fundamental idea of advocacy marketing.

That said, there’s more to it than this – and that’s what we’ll be covering today. This article will look at the whats, wheres, whys and hows of advocacy marketing, as well as examples of businesses that have already harnessed its awesome power.

What is advocacy marketing?

Advocacy marketing involves getting people outside your sales and marketing teams to spread the word about your company and its services.

But who are these wonderful people? Among the most common advocates are:

Customers

These are your super fans. Among your existing customer pool, there will be some particularly contented individuals who are willing to lend their voices to your marketing efforts. Your job is to identify, nurture and empower them to do this effectively (more on this later).

Customer advocacy marketing is closely tied with two concepts you’re likely to have already encountered:

  • User generated content – This could be images, videos, text or audio created by users and uploaded to digital platforms (usually social media).
  • Influencer marketing – Endorsements from individuals with highly invested social media followings is another way that brands seek to get their message out there in a seemingly organic manner. The market size for influencer marketing is predicted to top $8 billion in 2020, according to Hubspot.

Employees

Your employees are another valuable resource when it comes to expanding the digital reach of your business.

Chances are, staff are already active across a number of social platforms, so why not encourage them to use their personal profiles to share and engage with your content?

There are several reasons why employees make such good advocates:

  • They might already be doing it – Popular business platform LinkedIn has shown that employees are 70 per cent more likely to engage with company updates than the average user. With a little encouragement you may be able to make this practice more widespread and effective.
  • Word of mouth is powerful – Employees who share examples of great company work, or who speak positively about your company could end up benefiting your bottom line. In fact, 91 per cent of B2B buyers base their purchasing decisions on word-of-mouth, according to Incite Group.
  • It reinforces team spirit – Asking your team to use social media wisely in support of the organisation not only shows trust, but also serves to heighten the idea of a team effort to improve sales.

Partners

Another important one for B2B brands is partner advocacy.

What better way to demonstrate that you’re a great organisation to do business with than glowing testimonials from those who have already had the experience?

According to social media expert Neil Schaffer, partner advocates can influence purchasing decisions among their network, and aid in bolstering the reputation of your brand in its market.

Where does advocacy marketing happen?

Now we’ve established who you can look to as brand advocates, it’s important to understand some of the platforms you can use

Social media

What doesn’t happen on social media these days? In Australia, over 88 per cent of people have a social media profile, with 34 per cent checking in over five times a day (Yellow Social Media Report 2018).

The same study showed that 43 per cent of respondents had posted an online review or blog, an average of six posts in the last year. Gaining some control over how your brand is seen on social is key to ensuring that positive messages outweigh any negatives ones.

Through referral packages

Motoring giant Tesla found a great way to tap into loyal customers in order to draw in more business.

The scheme meant that both the referred person and the referrer would get a US$1,000 discount on a new order, and the existing customer would gain access to buy a limited model usually not available to the public (the first person to do so even got the vehicle for free!).

Blogs and review sites

An advocate doesn’t have to simply champion a product or service. If you’re creating great quality content that other bloggers want to refer to on their sites, this all helps build towards an image of your company as a thought-leading industry expert.

Why is advocacy marketing important?

Okay, knowledge consumed, but why should you care?

Since the internet became a thing, marketers have benefitted from a plethora of new ways to engage with and sell to their target markets.

However, there are two sides to the coin of greater brand-consumer communication, and two significant issues have arisen in this context from a business point of view:

  1. Consumers have much greater research capabilities: Today’s shoppers have access to huge amounts of info about you, and your rivals, through the click of a mouse. According to Deloitte, 81 per cent of people read reviews and check ratings when researching their purchasing options.
  2. Death by a thousand adverts: I’m not here to trash talk digital advertising, a well executed campaign can yield great results. However, a constant bombardment of not-so-subtle sales pitches can get old fast. This is borne out in a statistic from LinkedIn showing that 92 per cent of consumers trust peers over advertising when making a purchasing decision.

What do both of these trends teach us?

Authenticity is of vital importance to today’s shoppers. They want to hear from people who’ve had real life experience with a business and/or its products and services before investing their own dollars.

…and this is where advocacy marketing comes in. Remember those cringe-inducing TV ads where ‘totally unsuspecting customers’ are picked to support the commercial’s message? Advocacy marketing is that, but real.

Properly harnessed, it’s a way of saying to your customers, “Don’t believe me? Ask them”.

If this isn’t enough to convince you of advocacy marketing’s value, I’ve thrown in some additional reasons for good measure:

It’s cost effective

Sure, if you go down the route of offering cash incentives to promote advocacy activities, you’ll end up spending a bit – but is there anything easier and cheaper than your customers growing brand awareness for you?

This is particularly relevant today, as the cost of acquiring new customers has increased by more than 50 per cent in the last five years, says Hubspot.

If you’re good enough to make pre-existing customers want to shout about your business, chances are you’ll be able to retain a new buyer once they’ve converted. Advocacy marketing simply helps them reach this point, at minimal cost to you!

It can increase brand loyalty

Attracting advocates (as you’ll see below) involves a careful nurturing process.

Of course, the end goal is to create an army of proud supporters, but – if this fails – is time spent engaging with customers really a waste?

Research from Deloitte shows that prospects referred by other loyal customers have a 37 per cent higher retention rate.

It helps you reach more people

Data from IAB in 2017 revealed that one in four Australians use ad blockers.

Adding this to Facebook’s 2018 algorithm shift that favours “meaningful interactions” from family and friends over brand content, it may seem difficult to get your message out there.

Here again, advocates and influencers provide an answer. These individuals don’t only humanise your brand for other humans, but do the same in the eyes of the various algorithms we live to please. This allows you to bypass the filters and market in a genuine and organic way.

How to attract marketing advocates

Sadly, brand ambassadors don’t grow on trees, and you’ll need a well thought-through strategy if you’re to harness the power of advocacy marketing.

In the interests of fairness, we’ll give an example of how to attract marketing advocates for B2C companies (consumer advocates) and for B2B companies (employee advocates).

Attracting consumer advocates

Step one: Find the right candidates

Your own data is the place to go for identifying brand advocates. In this hunt, be sure to check out:

  • Social media – Look for signals including likes, mentions, shares, retweets, comments and reviews.
  • Review sites – While the temptation is to only engage with those who’ve posted stellar reviews (and you definitely should talk to these people!), don’t write off people who aren’t so happy. Successful resolution to a complainant’s problem could also result in a new ambassador.
  • Customer relationship management systems – CRMs are ideal for singling out long-term customers who are likely to have good knowledge of and experience with the brand.

Step two: Engage them

If your customers are going to promote your brand, they need to know (and buy into) what sets you apart from the competition.

This is where producing great content is crucial. You need to provide them with real value, demonstrating that you understand both their interests and pain points in a way, that will stimulate engagement.

As well as hopefully sharing this content on social media or blogs, this material should help them develop a sense of affinity with your business, and remember you above the competition.

Patagonia is one brand that’s proved particularly adept at forging connections with its customers. Its environmental activism has struck a chord with responsible millennial shoppers, creating legions of loyal advocates.

Step three: Nurture them

As well as creating a great product and compelling content, you need to care for your customers.

According to Deloitte Australia, a customer’s experience of a brand holds the same importance as financial rewards when it comes securing their loyalty.

A good experience can mean offering touchpoints across several channels, and going above and beyond to show customers are valued. The latter could involve publicly displaying their achievements, or making reference to them in a blog or newsletter.

You also need to keep them up to speed with your latest offerings. Insider information on new products, or invitations to exclusives, serves your purposes and gives them the appreciation they deserve.

Attracting employee advocates

Step 1: Take the lead

Hopefully you know the physical location of your staff, but you still need to find the best ambassadorial candidates and inspire them into action.

LinkedIn says a great way to start this process is leading by example. Start by identifying members of your executive team who already have a substantial social presence. This shouldn’t be hard – according to Weber Shandwick, 89 per cent of global executives have personal social media accounts.

These people can then start sharing brand content among their network, laying the groundwork for employees to follow suit.

Step 2: Ensure they know the benefits

You may wish to incentivise employee advocacy through rewards such as:

  • Monetary prizes or gifts.
  • Access to Premium accounts on LinkedIn.
  • Additional upskilling programmes.
  • Public recognition – for example, social media posts acknowledging advocates’ contributions.

It’s also well worth reminding employees that, by sharing interesting content on their profiles, they have the opportunity to grow their personal brand too.

Step 3: Make it easy

While your chosen brand advocates are probably savvy when it comes to their own social accounts, they might need a helping hand to properly promote your brand.

The assistance you can provide includes:

  • Tips for optimising their profile – this could include a LinkedIn template with important info on the company.
  • When to post for maximum engagement.
  • What combinations of content to share on different platforms
  • The types of language to use in posts.

Step 4: Make the workplace social

Most employee contracts today include a section discouraging social media use during work hours.

If this includes you, it’s time to make a change. Ensure your employees know you’re more than okay with their social media use, and encourage staff to connect with each other on platforms such as LinkedIn.

As well as making for a better connected workplace, this means that you have a better chance of employees sharing content posted by your advocates, giving you an even greater reach.

Examples of successful advocacy marketing

We’ll finish off by looking at a few firms who’ve got hit the bullseye with advocacy marketing:

Apple (consumer advocacy)

Love or hate Apple, their ‘Shot on iPone’ campaign is a prime example of how customer advocacy can provide authentic advertising, at minimal expense.

In the competition, contestants are invited to share images taken on their iPhone on social media, under a predefined hashtag. Apple then chooses the ones they like most and displays them on billboards.

Customer engagement – tick. Cheap advertising – tick. Job’s a good’un. 

ANZ (employee advocacy)

Banking is important, but be honest – does content marketing produced by your bank fill you with excitement? My guess is no, no it does not.

Well, this is exactly the problem ANZ encountered when engaging with current and potential customers. To tackle this, they realised they had to amend their workplace culture regarding social media.

Instead of discouraging staff from using social sites, they introduced LinkedIn Elevate.

This tool presents staff with a pool of pre-approved content that will provide value to customers, making it the perfect tool for employee advocacy.

Through employee advocacy, ANZ were able to gain four times more followers for their official LinkedIn page.

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, this move paid serious dividends for ANZ. The introduction of LinkedIn Elevate saw staff sharing six times more frequently, and led to four times more followers for the bank’s official LinkedIn page.

What’s more, employee connections also grew four times faster than usual – demonstrating the benefits of employee advocacy to staff. Win-win!

Cisco (consumer advocacy)

Technology conglomerate Cisco delivers an advocacy masterclass with their Cisco Champions program.

This is an ongoing initiative that originated when the business discovered they had heaps of advocates who enjoyed demonstrating their skills as networkers.

Through the Champions program, Cisco encouraged advocates to discuss the business on social channels and personal networks. In return, they offered their ambassadors more networking opportunities, and chances to improve their IT capabilities.

Among the incentivising tactics Cisco adopted were:

  • Creating the #CiscoChat hashtag on Twitter.
  • Inviting influencers to produce content for Cisco’s weekly podcast and blog.
  • Inviting advocates to appear on the business’ Engineers Unplugged videos.
  • Early access to new products.
  • Invitations to exclusive events.
  • Opportunities to discuss technology topics with the company’s senior engineers.

4. MasterCard (employee advocacy)

MasterCard first hopped on the employee advocacy bandwagon back in 2013. They realised that their 7,500 strong workforce could be mobilised to share content across their personal Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.

The company took the smart step of including staff in the creation of social media guidelines.. This has clear benefits for leaders keen to keep control, but also meant staff weren’t put off through a fear of breaking protocols.

Laterly, MasterCard have created the MasterCard Employee Ambassador Program to work closely with 400 of its employees who promote brand content across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The importance of compelling content in social media success

Al Hall
Al Hall About the author